Merida in the movie "Brave." (Pixar, Disney )
It was a highly animated weekend at the box office, as moviegoers spent more than $85 million to see "Brave" and "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" — each family-oriented, non-live action films.
"Brave" is the 13th film from Pixar Animation to open in the No. 1 position at the multiplex, as the 3-D movie debuted with a strong $66.7 million this past weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Studios. Meanwhile, the 3-D animated "Madagascar 3" continued to do strong business even on its third weekend in theaters, grossing an additional $20 million. The DreamWorks Animation title has now collected $157.6 million in the U.S. and Canada.
"I think animated films are doing so well because they can ultimately appeal to a broad audience," said Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution. "But you have to be able to play at night and have something that is as entertaining for kids as it is for adults."
Beyond "Brave," the weekend's other debuts failed to resonate with audiences. The historical 3-D thriller "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" got off to an underwhelming start, grossing $16.5 million in its opening weekend. And the apocalypse dramedy "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" attracted far fewer moviegoers to theaters, debuting with a disappointing $3.8 million.
"Brave" is the latest hit for Disney's Pixar animation unit, which has a nearly impeccable track record at the box office. The movie got off to a slightly better start than the company's last release, "Cars 2," which opened with $66.1 million last summer and is one of the only Pixar releases to not have received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Critics were far kinder to "Brave," and moviegoers also loved the film, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The movie stars Pixar's first female protagonist, a Scottish teenage princess named Merida whose defiant nature creates trouble within her kingdom.
While the film's advertising campaign attempted to play up Merida's more tomboyish traits, such as her favorite pastime being archery, the movie appealed mostly to young girls this weekend. Roughly 57% of the audience for "Brave" was female, and two-thirds of the crowd consisted of parents with their children.
"Pixar has a track record that is unmatched, and audiences know what they're getting with the brand when they walk into the theater," Hollis said. "It's encouraging to see that you can bring out a new character and story that seemingly might not appeal to everyone and do well."
Although seven of the top 10 highest-grossing theaters for the film were in California, the movie also did particularly well in family-skewing markets such as Orlando, Fla., Seattle and Salt Like City, where ticket sales were 53% above the norm.
Overseas, "Brave" debuted in 10 foreign markets including Russia and China and grossed $13.5 million in total. The film will not open in Scotland, where it is set, until mid-August.
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" wasn't well liked in America, because those who saw it here this weekend gave it only an average grade of C+. The film, which also suffered from poor reviews, features President Lincoln as an ax-carrying emancipator intent on slaying the nation's vampires. 20th Century Fox spent roughly $69 million to produce the film, which does not star any well-known actors.
Based on a bestselling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, the movie was expected to appeal mostly to young men this weekend. While the movie did attract more men than women, about 44% of the crowd was female, and 53% of moviegoers were 25 and older.
Internationally, the movie debuted in 17 foreign markets and collected $8.1 million. The film performed best in Russia, where it grossed $3.9 million.
"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" was expected to debut with at least $7 million, but the film failed to attract the strong adult audience Focus Features wanted. The movie, which stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as friends who bond on the eve of the apocalypse, cost the studio roughly $10 million to produce.
Unfortunately for Focus, the movie will probably not generate positive word of mouth, because it too received a dismal C+ CinemaScore.